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An Economist with an Abiding Commitment to Making the World Better

In Memoriam: Jim Harding — Faith, Hope, and Clarity

In the autumn of 1969 there was a big environmental conference in San Francisco sponsored, if memory serves, by one of the United Nations agencies. A panel at the conference featured high school students who were active in various environmental activities. One was a lad from Cubberly High School in Palo Alto named Jim Harding. After the panel, Harding met David Brower, who had recently been forced out of the Sierra Club and founded Friends of the Earth. Each impressed the other.

Jim HardingPhoto provided Jim Harding at a talk in 1982. Harding was a key player in energy planning everywhere. The recent decision by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company to phase out its last reactor, at Diablo Canyon is a fitting capstone to his decades of activism against nuclear energy.

After high school Harding enrolled at Bowdoin College in Maine, where he studied economics and became interested in the economics of energy production, especially nuclear power. In due course he made it back to the Bay Area and joined the staff of FOE, which was actively campaigning to have nuclear reactors shut down.

As the campaign grew, Harding undertook a column in FOE’s journal Not Man Apart, a twice-monthly, two-page tabloid-newspaper spread called “The Nuclear Blowdown.” It covered economic matters as well as technical issues to do with reactor safety and many other topics. Despite NMA’s relatively small circulation, "The Blowdown" became required reading, both for nuclear boosters and for opponents. At one point, Mark Dowie wrote in Mother Jones that he had snuck into a high-level nuclear meeting and heard any number of people say that they depended on “The Blowdown” to keep them up to date on what the antinuclear movement was thinking and doing.

In 1976, as California voters were considering how to vote on Proposition 15, which would have severely cramped any thought of nuclear expansion, Harding was lured to Sacramento to work for the new California Energy Commission, one of several agencies created during Jerry Brown’s first stint as governor, two others being SolarCal and the Office of Appropriate Technology.

After about three years in state government, Harding returned to FOE and joined Amory Lovins to create the International Project on Soft Energy Paths, “soft” energy being Amory’s description of solar, wind, other renewables, and efficiency and conservation. They published an elegant journal called Soft Energy Notes, which became quite an influential fixture, and conducted research and sponsored conferences for about five years.

Nuclear energy …more

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Giraffes at Risk of Extinction after Devastating Population Decline, Experts Warn

Latest update to IUCN red list of threatened species shows world's tallest animal on the brink, but brings good news for other species

The world’s tallest animal is at risk of extinction after suffering a devastating decline in numbers, with nearly 40 percent of giraffes lost in the last 30 years, according to the latest “red list” analysis.

The authoritative list, compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has also added more than 700 newly recognized bird species, but 13 of these are already extinct.

photo of giraffePhoto by Austin MillsNearly 40 percent of giraffes have been lost in the past 30 years, putting the animals at risk of extinction.

It says wild relatives of important food crops, such as mangoes and sunflowers, are now in danger of extinction, cutting the ability to safeguard food supplies by breeding new varieties resilient to drought and disease.

But there is a little hopeful news in the list as well with the rediscovery of a few species thought to have been lost, such a Madagascan freshwater fish that had not been seen since the 1960s, and the recovery of the Seychelles white-eye bird after conservation efforts.

The natural world is in the midst of a mass extinction as wild places are destroyed by conversion to farmland, mining, and pollution, and animals are hunted in huge numbers. In October, a major analysis found the number of wild creatures was on track to fall by two-thirds by 2020, compared to 1970. Recent red list updates have found the eastern Gorilla and whale shark moving closer to extinction, while the prospects of the giant panda are improving.

The number of species assessed by the red list now totals more than 85,000, with more than 24,000 at risk of extinction, but many more species remain unstudied. “Many species are slipping away before we can even describe them,” said Inger Andersen, IUCN’s director general.

“This red list update shows that the scale of the global extinction crisis may be even greater than we thought,” she said. “Governments gathered at the UN biodiversity summit [at which the update will be presented on Thursday] have the immense responsibility to step up their efforts to protect our planet’s biodiversity — not just for its own sake but for human imperatives such as food security and sustainable development.”

The new red list found the giraffe population had plummeted from about 157,000 to 97,500 in the last 30 years and the species had jumped two IUCN categories from “least concern” to now …more

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Conflicting Maps Complicate Fight Against Fires, Deforestation in Indonesia

Divergent land ownership claims make it difficult to hold accountable those responsible for igniting blazes, say advocates

Indonesia's annual fires are only getting worse, as last year’s massive event made clear. The fires alone made the country one of the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in 2015, resulting in an estimated 1.6 billion tons of carbon equivalent emissions. Researchers estimate that more than 100,000 people in Indonesia and neighboring countries may have died due to the resulting particulate pollution. Since the largely preventable fires, which were caused by farmers burning forests to clear land and exacerbated by El Niño-related dryness, subsided in October 2015, there have been myriad efforts to try to prevent similar scenarios in future years. Key to the success of all of these efforts, and to the future of Indonesia's forests, may be the One Map initiative.

photo of Indonesia deforestationPhoto by Rainforest Action NetworkFires in Indonesia, which are often set to clear land for palm oil and timber development, are a major contributor to global emissions. Advocates believe conflicting land ownership maps are contributing to the problem by hampering enforcement efforts.

One Map aims to address what many activists, experts, and private companies see as a central barrier to stopping illegal deforestation and burning in Indonesia: the existence of numerous, conflicting land ownership maps among different levels of government, as well as private sector actors. Conflicting views of ownership make it nearly impossible to hold accountable those igniting blazes across the country. Not to mention that reluctance among some actors to even share their maps with the public leads to gaps in information.

The One Map initiative aims to rectify these divergent views and fill information gaps in order to provide a foundation for anti-deforestation enforcement efforts across the country. The United States Agency for International Development, the US Forest Service International Programs, and several environmental organizations are contributing to the challenging effort.

“The Indonesian people have a right to know what is happening on the ground,” said Longgena Ginting, strategy and analysis director with the environmental nonprofit Greenpeace Indonesia, which has been contributing to the One Map initiative, said in a statement. “The government should release the maps it has and name and shame companies that refuse to publish their own maps.”

However, the task of creating a single, accurate map is much easier said than done. Indonesia suffered through decades of poor land management practices due to rampant corruption and a national development policy that focused on resource-driven economic growth. This led to horrific …more

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An Immodest Proposal: Make America Beautiful Again

David Brower once proposed a large-scale focus on the restoration of America’s damaged ecology. The time for that effort is now.

No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening - still all is Beauty!
John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938)

Without question, the election of Donald Trump was a perfect storm, driven by many factors, each of which might have drawn enough votes from Clinton to turn the tide.  I want to address only one of them — the lack of an inspiring vision for the Democrats. Make no mistake, Clinton won the popular vote, that much we know.  But the country is deeply split and any effort to move it toward the Left must ask how to best reach a sizeable segment of those who voted for Trump, after having, in some cases, voted for Obama in the past two elections.

abandoned buildingPhoto by Thomas HawkPolitical campaigns must appeal to a moral vision, and one that understands the needs and longings that are common to all of us.

Communications strategist and linguist George Lakoff has often warned that the Left communicates through policies and the presentation of factual data while the Right deals in moral themes and a focus on values. In effect, Democrats speak more to the head and Republicans, to the heart. Short on detail, Trump promised to “make America great again!” an appeal to emotion rather than logic. Clinton countered with “Stronger together!” but with less emotional impact. Trump was weak on facts and policies, and lost the debates convincingly.  But his simple language and appeal to restore an imagined greatness resonated more strongly with a large segment of voters.

Lakoff has suggested that campaigns must appeal to a moral vision, and one that understands the needs and longings that are common to all of us. As for policies, he would focus on themes and legislation that can simultaneously address many of these common needs and longings. He calls such campaigns “strategic initiatives” and, a decade ago, pointed to one — the Apollo Project, a major investment in alternative energy that would simultaneously have created jobs and challenged climate change. 

I want to suggest a new initiative for progressives, a “Make America Beautiful Again” campaign.

Beauty is truth, and truth beauty — John Keats

Whether it is always conscious or not, one thing that almost all Americans share is a love for beautiful …more

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In Win for Standing Rock Protectors Army Corps Denies Key Permit for Dakota Access Pipeline

Battle is won but the war isn’t over yet, warn camp leaders

The Army Corps of Engineers will not grant the permit for the Dakota Access pipeline to drill under the Missouri river, the army announced on Sunday, handing a major victory to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe after a months-long campaign against the pipeline.

Water protectors at Sacred Stone CampPhoto by Joe BruskyThe Army Corps says its decision i based on “a need to explore alternate routes” for the crossing. While the news is a victory, Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the tribe, cautioned that the decision could be appealed.

Assistant secretary for civil works Jo-Ellen Darcy announced the decision on Sunday, with the army saying it was based on “a need to explore alternate routes” for the crossing.

“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Darcy said in a statement. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”

The army corps will undertake an environmental impact statement and look for alternative routes, the tribe said in its own announcement.

“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian Country will be forever grateful to the Obama administration for this historic decision,” tribal chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement.

While the news is a victory, Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the tribe, cautioned that the decision could be appealed.

“They [Energy Transfer Partners] can sue, and Trump can try to overturn,” Hasselman said. “But overturning it would be subject to close scrutiny by a reviewing court, and we will be watching the new administration closely.”

“We hope that Kelcey Warren, Governor [Jack] Dalrymple, and the incoming Trump administration respect this decision and understand the complex process that led us to this point,” Archambault said.

The announcement came just one day before the corps’ deadline for thousands of Native American and environmental activists – who call themselves water protectors – to leave the sprawling encampment on the banks of the river. For months, they have protested over their fears that the pipeline would contaminate their water source and destroy sacred sites, and over the weekend hundreds of military veterans arrived at the camps in a show of support for the movement.

As word spread in the main camp, protesters broke out in jubilant celebrations, and with nightfall a few fireworks burst above the tents …more

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Disney’s Latest Motion Picture Is a Parable about Climate Change and Indigenous Rights

In Review: Moana

Disney’s South Pacific-set animated feature Moana — co-directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, co-creators of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, with voice characterization by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and music co-written by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda — was number one at US box offices during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. After its world premiere at LA’s AFI Fest on November 14, The Hollywood Reporter noted, “Moana scored… with $81.1 million from 3,875 theaters,” while ABC News reported it “notched the third-largest three-day Thanksgiving opening of all time.”

movie poster

The optically opulent movie is about Moana (voiced by Hawaiian teenager Auli’i Cravalho), daughter of Motunui island’s Polynesian Chief Tui (New Zealand Maori actor Temuera Morrison, who starred in 1994’s Once Were Warriors). After the Pacific Islander learns about her voyaging heritage from Gramma Tala (Maori actress Rachel House of 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Moana decides to embark on an Oceanic odyssey to save her endangered isle from environmental devastation. During her voyage she enlists the aid of the legendary demigod Maui (voiced by Johnson, who is part-Samoan), who reluctantly helps the young, feisty Moana as they cross the Pacific in a sailing canoe to fight the demonic force on a far away isle that is threatening Motunui (which can be translated as “big island”).

This is the basic plot of Disney’s sumptuously animated musical adventure, but what most reviewers have missed is that disguised in the medium of a feature-length colorful cartoon, Moana’s filmmakers have created a motion picture parable about climate change. And emerging while Native tribes take a stand at Standing Rock against fossil fuel development and oppression of indigenous peoples, Moana is also a movie metaphor about indigenous rights. (If Dakota Access Pipeline protesters are “water protectors,” however, in Moana the Pacific protects the title character — whose name can be translated as “ocean.”)

The entire raison d’etre for Moana’s mission is that an environmental disaster has befallen Motunui. The crops are failing, the coconuts have turned black, and the lagoon’s fish have been fished out. To restore ecological balance Moana must sail to the distant island of Te Fiti and return the “heart of Te Fiti,” a sculpted, jade-like precious gem-like stone that glows green (symbolizing Mother Nature) in order to defeat Te Kā, a fierce fiery creature threatening her home. Te Kā’s heat and flames represent global warming; Moana and Maui repeatedly proclaim they’re not only rescuing Motunui, but “saving the world.” 

Disney’s creative …more

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Trudeau’s Approval of Kinder Morgan, Line 3 Pipelines Is a Failure in Climate Leadership

Environmentalists, First Nations gear up for long fight against tar sands oil pipelines

“Canada is back my friends. We are here to help.”

When Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau made this statement last year, he was newly elected and addressing the UN's 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris. Canada’s renewed focus on battling climate change was a big deal. But, if approving two massive new pipeline projects that will send the Alberta tar sands crude around the world is his idea of helping in the fight against climate change, many are wondering what Trudeau might do in a less environmentally generous frame of mind.

Protest against Kinder Morgan pipelinePhoto courtesy of SumOfUsCanadian environmental groups are already gearing up to stop the Trans Mountain project in its tracks by utilizing a rarely used piece of provincial legislation dubbed the “Recall and Initiative Act.”

Despite his Paris pledge to become an international climate leader, on Tuesday, Trudeau announced the approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project. The project, proposed by the Texas based energy infrastructure company, would twin an existing pipeline that runs from the tar sands mines in Alberta to the Pacific Coast and will increase the pipeline’s capacity by 300,000 barrels per day. The Trudeau government also approved the expansion of the Line 3 pipeline between Alberta and Wisconsin that will increase the existing pipeline’s capacity by 370,000 barrels of oil per day.

Approval of the projects assure expansion of mining in the Alberta tar sands — considered to be one of the most environmentally destructive projects on the planet — and a corresponding increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

“Today’s announcement may as well have said that Canada is pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. By approving the Kinder Morgan and Line 3 pipelines, there is no way Canada can meet those commitments. Justin Trudeau has broken his promises for real climate leadership, and broken his promise to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples,” Aurore Fauret, Tar Sands Campaign Coordinator with 350.org said on Tuesday.

">"Enbridge’s proposed replacement and expansion of Line 3 from Alberta to Wisconsin would add up to 525,000 barrels per day (bpd) of new capacity, bringing total capacity for the line up to 915,000 bpd," Natural Resources Defence Council's Joshua Axelrod said in a blog post following the Trudeau announcement. "The upper Midwest has already witnessed the aftermath of one major tar sands spill when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in 2010. That memory alone should remind us all that the risks these new pipelines pose to our …more

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